What thoughts or feelings come up for you around breastfeeding? As a new mom or mom-to-be, you may have experienced friends or family members sharing their advice or breastfeeding stories with you. This can start to shape your views of breastfeeding long before your baby is born. You may be thinking it’ll just come naturally or maybe you’re worried it will be painful. Maybe you’re feeling a little anxious because you’ve breastfed before and it was really challenging. Navigating all the information online is difficult as a first time parent because there are so many breastfeeding myths that contribute to how you’re feeling or preparing for your feeding journey. Here are 5 common breastfeeding myths and why they are myths
1. Breastfeeding is supposed to be painful
This myth is often shared with you, long before your baby is even born. Friends and family may begin sharing their experience of painful breastfeeding with you and suggest you prepare for the worst by trying some method of toughening up your nipples in advance of baby’s arrival. Not only does this not help you build your breastfeeding confidence, but who wants to breastfeed if it’s going to be painful?
The good news is, this is a myth. Breastfeeding your baby can be a comfortable and enjoyable experience if you have the right support.
It’s common to experience some mild soreness or nipple tenderness during the first few days. This is due largely to hormonal changes, but should quickly subside after your baby latches. It shouldn’t reach a point where you’re dreading feeding your baby. If it does and you’re experiencing pain or damage, there’s an issue that needs to be addressed. A comfortable latch feels like gentle tugging and/or pulling. If it doesn’t, connect with a lactation consultant to find the root cause of what’s going on.
2. Small breasts won’t produce enough milk
Your breast size is actually determined by the amount of fat tissue present. Fat tissue doesn’t produce milk. The milk making tissue is separate and you can have enough milk making tissue to produce a full supply for your baby even if you have small breasts.
If you have small breasts, there is no need to worry that you will not produce enough milk for your baby. There are, however, underlying risk factors that could impact your ability to make milk. A few of these include a history of PCOS or insulin resistance, hormonal imbalances, thyroid disorders or previous breast or chest surgeries. Setting up a prenatal breastfeeding consultation with a lactation consultant can help set you up for success because a detailed medical history is taken to determine if you have any risk factors for a low supply and take proactive steps.
3. A baby needs to feed 15 minutes per side (or “X” number of minutes)
A baby can be latched to the breast but not actually be feeding. This is why it’s so important to learn what breastfeeding actually looks like, meaning how to know if your baby is actually drinking milk. Babies will actively feed which means they are swallowing milk but they will also passively suck (no swallowing happening). Both of these can happen during their time at breast.
Some babies will be finished drinking before 15 minutes is up and not want to accept the second side because they are full. Some babies will feed more than 15 minutes and then accept the other side and feed for a completely different amount of time.
A baby breastfeeds for many reasons, beyond just nutrition so many babies will stay at the breast and suck to soothe themselves after they’ve eaten. This would increase the amount of time they spend at the breast.
What’s most important is how your baby is feeding at the breast. Not how long they are feeding for.
4. You have to wait for your milk to “come in” to feed your baby
Your body is amazing. Not only are you growing a baby but your body is preparing to feed that baby before they are born. Your body begins producing baby’s first milk, called colostrum, during the second trimester of pregnancy. Generally around weeks 16-20, your body is starting to produce breastmilk! This means, milk is available to your baby right after birth.
Your body keeps production of milk low while pregnant because there isn’t a baby to feed yet. Your high levels of progesterone are responsible for this. Once you birth your placenta (after you birth your baby) your progesterone levels drop significantly which helps signal to your brain to begin making more milk. The volume gradually goes up over 3-5 days but colostrum is available in small amounts for small tummies. There is no reason you can’t latch your baby after birth or begin hand expression if you’re separated from your baby. Milk is there - you don’t have to wait.
5. Breastfeeding will come naturally to you
While breastfeeding is a very natural way to feed your baby, it likely won’t feel natural at first so this is a myth. Breastfeeding takes a little while to figure out. Both you and your baby are learning this skill together.
If you drive, or know how to ride a bike, there was a time in your life where you didn’t know how. You didn’t have that skill. It was something you had to learn. The same goes for breastfeeding. This is why it’s so important to plan ahead and take a prenatal breastfeeding class or work privately with a lactation consultant before your baby arrives to help set you up for success.
Campbell, S.H., Lauwers, J., Mannel, R., & Spencer, B. (2019). Core Curriculum for interdisciplinary lactation care. Jones & Bartlett Learning.
Canadian Breastfeeding Foundation (n.d). Some breastfeeding myths. Retrieved from: https://www.canadianbreastfeedingfoundation.org/basics/myths.shtml
La Leche League International (LLLI). (2021). Pain: General. Retrieved from: https://www.llli.org/breastfeeding-info/pain-general/
Newman, J. & Pitman, T. (2014). Dr. Jack Newman’s Guide to Breastfeeding. HarperCollins Publishers Ltd.
Alex Wachelka (Lactation Consultant) is the founder of Motherhood Blooms Lactation™. She is passionate about helping others feel validated and heard during their infant feeding experience because she herself faced a challenging time breastfeeding her firstborn. Her experience reaching out for support led her to learn more about breastfeeding and lactation and discovering a passion she didn't know she had. She went back to school with a very young infant to train in lactation so she could help others feel confident and successful in their infant feeding journey.
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